Karen villagers protest military expansion amid renewed clashes

More than a thousand people gathered in Kayin state’s Hpapun (Mutraw) district on Wednesday to demand that government forces end recent hostilities in the region.

According to a statement released by the Salween Peace Park, protests took place at two locations in the district’s Mae Wai village tract between 9am and 10am on Wednesday.

The statement said that the villagers were calling on the Myanmar military to “stop their attacks on local civilians” and end their expansion in the area.

The protest comes about a month after the resumption of clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Karen National Union (KNU) that have sent more than 3,000 villagers fleeing since early December.

A much larger protest, involving at least 10,000 ethnic Karen villagers, was also held in the district a week earlier, according to media reports.

The protests signal fears that rising tensions could lead to the collapse of the uneasy peace that has prevailed in the former warzone since the KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) more than five years ago.

Relations between the two sides have grown increasingly strained in recent years as the KNU has accused the Tatmadaw of violating the terms of the NCA by increasing its presence in the region.

Among the group’s concerns are the use of drones by the military to spy on KNU positions and a road-widening project linked to human rights abuses that is widely seen as part of an effort to consolidate occupation of ethnic lands.

The protestors also spoke out against the military’s indiscriminate shelling of local villages.

They urged both the government and the KNU, as signatories to the NCA, “to take actions to resolve the concerns that we raised.”

They also said that the United Nations and the international community should apply pressure on the government and military to remove troops from the region.

The calls echo those made by the KNU in a statement issued on December 1, in which it demanded that the Tatmadaw withdraw all of its bases from KNU territory.

Despite hopes that the international community might play a role in restoring trust in the NCA, which has been the centrepiece of the government’s faltering peace process, some observers say that foreign involvement has actually contributed to the problem.

Plans by the World Bank to lend Myanmar $200m for infrastructure projects “could serve as a line of credit for continued counterinsurgency,” noted one analyst.

Related Articles

Back to top button